Americanah: Shan’s Spell

In Chapter 35, Adichie introduces us to Shan. She has this magnetism about her that makes anyone in her presence acquiesce to her way of seeing the world. Surprisingly, Ifemelu succumbs to this power. It seems that Shan is the only person to whom Ifemelu doesn’t speak her mind, and I’m curious about why this is. Ifemelu is aware of Shan’s constant drive to charm, but nonetheless, Ifemelu falls under her spell. In their first interaction, Shan conspicuously sizes Ifemelu up, “a frank sizing up that was not shy to be a frank sizing up,” and when Shan tells her that she is very pretty, Ifemelu responds, “‘You’re very pretty,’ Ifemelu said, surprising herself, because those were not the words she would have ordinarily said, but she felt already co-opted by Shan” (393). Later, Ifemelu ends up “swallow[ing] her words” (445) so she doesn’t offend Shan, but all throughout the book we’ve seen descriptions of Ifemelu unable to stop words from escaping her mouth. Why doesn’t Ifemelu call out Shan’s manipulation as she does with any other human? Why does Ifemelu crave Shan’s approval when she sees through her act? I doubt these questions will be answered in the remainder of the novel, but it is a problem that persists for me as a reader.

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